To win Olympic Gold in sailing takes a myriad of qualities that also come in handy in the world of environmental and climate activism: Perseverance, adaptability and, perhaps most importantly the ability to read the winds and thus to know when to attack.
Hannah Mills demonstrated all of the above and more in winning Gold in Olympic sailing for Great Britain at Rio 2016 in the two-person 470 class with Saskia Clark. It was in Rio — which suffers from extreme pollution of many of its waterways, bays and beaches — where her passion for improving the environment was stoked.
“The conditions of Guanabara Bay, where the sailing competition took place, were impossible to ignore,” Mills recalled with a shudder. “Wading out to our boats, through all manner of rubbish, was both disgusting and gut wrenching. I thought ‘I must do something!’ I just wasn’t sure what that was.”
Not surprisingly, plastic ocean waste turned to be the thing.
Fast forward to September 2019; that’s when Mills, with the support from the International Olympic Committee, launched the Big Plastic Pledge. The organization’s mission is as simple as it is audacious: To eradicate single use plastics in sports.
“We got off to good start, with media coverage from the BBC, Sky Sports and other British media,” said the Cardiff, Wales native. “Over 3,000 people have taken the Pledge, the International Rowing Federation became supporters, as did World Rowing. And then coronavirus hit.”
Of course the global pandemic forced a year one-year postponement of Tokyo 2020 until next July. Mills, who decided she had one more Olympics campaign in her, and new partner Eilidh McIntyre had already qualified. So, with sailing effectively shut down for the last four months, Mills has had time to work to build Big Plastic Pledge and also to dive deeper into climate change. And that’s when she found EcoAthletes.
“The more I studied it, the clearer it became to me that sport as we know it won’t be the same if we don’t begin to lower our carbon footprint at scale,” Mills shared. “Athletes care about climate change but many don’t feel confident to talk about it. Becoming an EcoAthletes Supporter appealed to me because its climate education curriculum gives athletes the tools they need to speak out powerfully. I look forward to working with my fellow EcoAthletes to unify behind a common mission: To use our platforms to build momentum for real climate action.”
Photo at Top of Story: Hannah Mills and teammate Eilidh McIntyre will be going for gold at Tokyo next summer (Photo credit: Nick Dempsey
You can follow Hannah Mills on Instagram at @hannahmills_gbr and on Twitter at @HannahMills1988. Big Plastic Pledge can be found on Instagram at @big_plastic_pledge